The word bokeh originates comes from the Japanese word boke ボケ, and broadly translates blur. In photography, the word is used to describe the aesthetically pleasing effects that can be achieved. In this article, I will cover the camera equipment that you need for capturing bokeh, as well as some tips on the techniques to use. Firstly, here are some examples of bokeh:
The good news is that you don’t need the latest / greatest DSLR. You do though need a DSLR or equivalent mirrorless to get consistent results, as they allow you control over the camera settings, and have superior performance at lower light settings. Basically camera wise, if you have a relatively modern DSLR from the last 5-8 years, then you don’t need to run out and buy any new kit, you can experiment with the camera you have.
Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body
As far as lenses go, the faster your glass, the better chance you have of capturing bokeh, and also getting quality results. However, generally speaking, the faster your glass (i.e. the lower the f-stop of the lens) then the higher the price tag. There is a general theme on the web that infers you need to have fast/expensive lenses in order to get results with bokeh. In reality, as long as you have a lens of f4 or below, then you can capture the effect nicely.
Set your camera to the lowest f-stop that your lens will allow. The easiest way to achieve this is to shoot in Aperture Priority mode, whereby you select the aperture (f-stop) you want to shoot at and allow the camera to do the rest. The idea here is that the lower the f-stop, the shallower your depth of field will be. i.e. the effect we are trying to achieve is that the subject you are shooting to be in focus and that the shallow depth of field naturally results in the background being blurred.
I also tend to shoot with the lowest ISO setting I can get for the ambient conditions. Whilst this won’t affect whether or not you capture bokeh, it will keep noise in your final image to a minimum, which in turn will improve the quality of the overall effect.
Techniques for Capturing Bokeh
As covered above, we have our aperture wide open, so the depth of field is as shallow as possible on our captured image. To take advantage of this, we want the background to be as far away as possible from the foreground subject to maximise our chance of capturing bokeh. This will naturally create blur, as the background will be out of the focal range of the lens.
Another trick to use, especially if you are photographing portraits, is to create space between you and the subject, as well as creating space between the subject and the background. This is particularly useful if you are working with a longer lens, or if you are working with a lens with a higher baseline f-stop.
When you are framing your subject, try to include highlights in the background. These highlights (if out of focus) will turn into glowing orbs of light and can be quite pleasing. The example below is an extreme example of this, where the image subject is made up predominantly of background. Some people take this technique to the limit and purely photograph a lit background deliberately out of focus. This works really well on street lights, holiday lights etc.
- Set your camera to Aperture Priority mode.
- Set your camera to the lowest native f-stop that your lens will allow.
- Keep your ISO as low as the light conditions will allow.
- Create space between the subject and the background.
- Particularly for portraits, as well as creating an air gap between the subject and the background, do the same between the camera and the subject.
- Try to include highlights from the sun or artificial light in your background.
- Photograph backgrounds with highlights in them deliberately out of focus.
Here are some other Photography Techniques articles that may be of interest to you:
Photographing Lightning can be a rewarding experience. Get the best out of this niche landscape photography genre. With some helpful tips on equipment, camera settings, and composition
A guide to taking portrait photographs in natural light. This guide is written for those starting out in this genre. However, it may also be useful for more experienced photographers. With useful hints and tips on camera set-up as well as composition.
Landscape Top-Tips to improve your Landscape Photography. This article will give you a foundation in the best equipment to use, preparation before your photoshoot, the use of tripods and filters, and general tips on composition.
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Specialising in landscape and wildlife photography, David is a semi-professional photographer based in Scotland, with an established fine art and stock photography portfolio; which includes published photography with the New York Post, Huffington Post, as well as various travel and tourism companies worldwide.